Every day Venice’s waterways and narrow streets swell with tourists, but head away from San Marco and Palazzo Ducale and you can still find quiet streets and enough atmospheric bars to make La Serenissima feel like a real city. As a guide to less well known parts of the city, we’ve rounded up a few of our favourite things to do in Venice’s main neighbourhoods.
Top tip: If you’re heading to Venice this Valentine’s Day, this will give you some great inspiration for where to take your other half once you get there! Surprise them with your knowledge of the hidden parts of the city.
Known for its lively nightlife and studenty feel, Dorsoduro is just a short walk away from the crowds of San Marco. The neighbourhood is famous for its bacari, small bars that serve snack-sized cicchetti and local wines at a fraction of the prices you’ll find elsewhere. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection and Gallerie dell’Accademia house many of the city’s most celebrated artworks. Less well known is San Trovaso, a church named after two saints and with two separate entrances, one for each of Venice’s old rival factions. Nearby is the squero di San Trovaso, one of the last remaining Gondola makers in the city. Head on over to this district to visit some of the lesser known gems of the great Venice.
The Rialto and San Polo
Once the banking centre of Venice, the Rialto still bristles with commercial activity. Popular attractions include the famous Scuola di San Rocco, where Tintoretto spent 12 years working on a series of vast paintings. Other highlights include the small church of San Giacomo di Rialto, the city’s oldest surviving church and known affectionately by locals as San Giacometto. Head away from San Giacomo to Campo Sant’Aponal, where you’ll find the Calle del Perdon and Sotoportego de la Madonna, where there’s a small shrine commemorating Pope Alexander III’s escape from Frederick Barbarossa in 1177.
San Marco may be the epicentre of Venice’s Disneyficazione, but it can still surprise. After a quick coffee at Caffè Florian or Bellini at Harry’s Bar, you can walk past La Fenice and through Campo Manin until you arrive at a small courtyard called the Corte Contarini del Bovolo. Here you’ll find a beautiful fifteenth-century spiral staircase, which leads to a gothic arcade that offers an interrupted view of the city’s rooftops. Stop and take in the sights from on top of the world – watch the busy Venice life go on beneath you.
Cannaregio and Madonna dell’Orto
Cannaregio’s narrow alleys and quiet campielli offer a glimpse into the lives of ordinary Venetians, with a down-to-earth atmosphere, local shops and the sound of locals exchanging the latest bits of gossip in thick dialect. For art lovers, there’s Madonna dell’Orto, one of Venice’s most beautiful churches, where you’ll find a mini-collection of masterpieces by Tintoretto. For another authentic dose of Venice’s past, there’s the Farmacia Santa Fosca all’Ercole d’Oro, the oldest pharmacy in the city.
A short vaporetto ride from San Marco, the small port of Chioggia, is a colourful mix of palazzi, traditional market stalls and trattoria, which feels like a smaller, more peaceful version of Venice itself. You’ll be able to grab a spritz at one of the local bacari or some fresh seafood at an osterie. What better way to relax after a weekend’s sightseeing in Venice?